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To those of us obsessed with the diabolical mindset and decision-making of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president's actions in Syria are neither complicated to understand nor surprising to witness. Syria is merely one more nearby country that Russian leaders seek to condemn to perpetual instability in order to serve their own interests, just another piece in the puzzle of Mr. Putin's mission to ensure Russian dominance in the near abroad while ultimately positioning himself as master of the region's future.

Mr. Putin has long enjoyed enormous power over the media, military and business operations of Russia. In 2012, Mr. Putin solidified his autocratic authority when he won a third term as president of the Russian Federation after an election widely acknowledged as fraudulent . President Putin's foreign policy actions over the last three years reflect a determination to display Russian might, and with it Mr. Putin's power to do as he pleases with weaker nations — even if that means violating national sovereignty and ignoring the democratic will and human rights of citizens.

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Military interventions in Ukraine and Syria are only the freshest cases in a pattern of the Russian State exerting influence through illegal and violent methods in its region while justifying such interference as necessary for maintaining peace, human rights and "legitimate" governments. Over the past 20 years, Russia intervened in Ukraine (a prequel to the current invasion), Georgia and Moldova, all in the name of a so-called right of self-determination for peoples living in separatist regions of Crimea, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Transnistria, respectively. At the time of these various interventions, each of those sovereign governments was exhibiting signs of moving away from Russian influence and closer to that of other bodies, such as NATO. Furthermore, in all three instances, Russia supported burgeoning separatist movements in a manner that escalated conflict and cemented Russian alliances with local rebel leaders to ultimately enable continued Russian control.

It is crucial to note that in all three cases there was little evidence of the violence often cited by the Russians, yet it was apparent that the Russian state-controlled media cynically exaggerated the extent of any unrest and/or reactionary violence. In the media, Mr. Putin and other leaders claimed they were acting to uphold the values of the U.N. In reality, the Russians were likely the guiltiest transgressors of U.N. values — especially in their direct and deliberate violations of national sovereignty.

The pattern lives on. Russia has publicly confirmed what many have suspected for months: the Russian military is actively fighting in Syria. The purported reason is to battle ISIS, as the terrorist group gains power in Syria and the broader Middle East. But assertions by the current Russian leadership should not be accepted at face value. Russia is in Syria so that Mr. Putin, the greatest opportunist of modern times, can exploit instability in a region also inhabited by the troublesome Caucuses and former Soviet states of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, thereby stationing himself to "come to the aid" of these countries. In addition, Russia can visibly compete with the U.S. in a regional conflict that has repeatedly exposed the weaknesses of American foreign policy and military action.

Just as in Ukraine in 2014, and in the past in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, Mr. Putin's first goal in Syria is disorder, which in turn will allow him to justify deployment of Russian troops in yet other neighboring countries where he seeks further growth of Russian influence. Mr. Putin's second goal is to prop up Mr. Assad's government, a leadership that owes its power and continued vitality to Russia. Indeed, it seems likely that Russia is not targeting ISIS as much as other rebel groups that work to destroy the Assad regime. And third, Mr. Putin seeks to embarrass the West while simultaneously positioning Russia as a world power on par with or greater than the United States, to increase Russian control in its region, its status in the international arena and its bargaining power with the U.S. and other Security Council members.

Right now, we're allowing him to progress quickly toward these goals by frequently opting not to challenge his leadership and power with either diplomacy or military maneuvers. A second cold war is spreading, and it will be a battle of wills. The will of Vladimir Putin has already seriously wounded the economic and political development of Ukraine. It's time for other world leaders to recognize his opportunism for what it is, a hungry power grab, and challenge it before it destroys any chance for peace throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Maggie Tennis is a recent Brown University graduate and a fluent Russian speaker who wrote her honors thesis on the role of language politics in the 2014 Ukraine conflict. She now works in Baltimore. Her email is maggie.a.tennis@gmail.com.

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